Just like our love for its luscious melt in your mouth bittersweet goodness, dark chocolate also loves us back and does wonders for our bodies. This love for dark chocolate, is probably one thing that connects us all and is one of the most craved food choices in the world. But little do we know about how chocolate came about in the first place!1
Dark Chocolate’s Bright Background:
-The first ever commercially sold solid chocolate bar was made by the English company, J.S. Fry & Sons in the year 1847, using cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar.
-But chocolate itself dates back 4000 years ago, to the Pre-Olmec tribe in Mexico, in the year 1900 B.C.
-Did you know that chocolate was not actually a dessert option but a staple part of a meal?
-In fact, cacao is naturally bitter, so these cultures made chocolate as a drink by fermenting, roasting and grinding the cacao beans into a paste, diluting it with water and adding spices such as chilies, vanilla and honey.
-Cacao beans were also used by the Aztecs and Mayans as currency.
-This prestigious status of chocolate still stands today, just as it was considered the ‘food for the Gods’ in anthropological history.
It may all seem a little confusing but here are the differences between, cacao, cocoa, and chocolate
-Cacao, is the plant, which looks like a small evergreen tree, called species Theobroma cacao. It possesses dried seeds, called cacao beans or cocoa beans, before it is processed.
-Cocoa, is the name after the cacao seeds has been roasted, aft removed and ground into a powder.
-Cocoa butter, is the fat of the cacao seed itself.
-Chocolate is the candy bar made from the roasted cacao seeds, and if it is not roasted then it becomes raw chocolate.
Keep It Real With Cacao
We all know that studies have shown that chocolate is good for us, but do we know how?
-Research has shown that the Mayans and Aztecs cherished their cacao because was a mood booster and aphrodisiac, kept only for those on the top of the social hierarchy.
-Chocolate and cocoa were used as medicine, in 17th century Europe, to treat angina and heart pain.
-However, do not be mistaken because every chocolate is different.
-The whiter the chocolate the lesser the cocoa it has and more sugar it has (sorry white chocolate lovers, this is just made of milk and sugar, no cocoa in it). The only champ in the chocolate competition would be: Dark chocolate.
-This is because you can taste the raw cacao in it which is quite bitter and less sweet, and also has rich antioxidants like polyphenols, which is what is good for your body.
-Stats say that close to 12 pounds of chocolate are consumed by Americans per capita every year. The downside to that is that its mostly milk chocolate, which has excess sugar and close to no potent cacao needed to benefit the body. The high sugar content of milk chocolate counters the body’s ability to get good antioxidants from the chocolate.
The Chocolate Choice
-When looking to get the best healthy benefits from chocolate, make sure it has higher cacao content, of about 70% or so, and low sugar. The darker the chocolate, the more bitter it is and more polyphenols exist.
-These are usually removed by chocolate producers, because the bitterness is a commercial deterrent, because it’s not so easy on the taste buds, even if its insanely good for your health.
-Dark chocolate and raw cacao, have natural epicatechin, a sort of flavonoid and antioxidant, which fights against inflammation and protects nerve cells from damage.
-It also has the potent antioxidant, resveratrol, which can bypass the blood-brain walls, by mimicking the natural cells in your brain and enter the central nervous system without trouble. It acts something like a kick-ass headache reliever and protection from neurodegenerative disorders.
-A Professor of Medicine in Harvard, Norman Hollenberg, did a field research of how the Kuna people of Panama consume about 40 cups of cocoa in a week, and have proven to show a lower than 10% risk for heart diseases, cancer and even diabetes, which is what plagues the more contemporary West.
-It is also said to help with smoothening blood flow, blood vessels and can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke by around 30%
-Cocoa is also an immune-booster, insulin balancer, lowers blood pressure, and fixes metabolic disorders as confirmed in the journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
-With close to 380 chemicals, 10 of which help in a psychoactive manner i.e. protecting the brain from stress, diseases and free radicals that could damage parts of it.
-It is also considered a complete food with organic healthy fats and it also has nitrogen and proteins, which eases the brain’s operation, preventing disorders like Alzheimer’s, stress and relaxes muscles.
-Rich in vital minerals, such as, potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium, it suppresses fat build up and boosts cell energy and proper function of the liver.
-It has also shown improvement in skin conditions, reduces gastrointestinal issues, improves stamina, reduces aging effects and also strengthen the amniotic sac in pregnant women.
Cocoa and Its Friends
-Dried fresh cacao beans are said to have the highest polyphenol content by 15 to 20%.
-The origin of the cocoa also makes a difference. For example, Jamaican cocoa contains close to 3 mg per gram while, Costa Rican cocoa has about 17 milligrams, of polyphenols.
-If the cocoa itself is not sufficient, some combinations like apples can boost its health benefits by a mile. When applies are added, it improves flavor, flavonoid content and reduces blot clots in the body, hence improving heart health.
Customized Choco Treats
Now that you know why dark chocolate is such a superfood, you can go straight to the core for getting the best health benefits of chocolate.
-The best way to do it is buy it whole and grind it using a coffee grinder, then using at least a spoonful of the powder in smoothies or other recipes. Some even eat them as it is or make chocolate chips from it.
-If it’s getting too bitter for you, adding some sweeteners should do the trick,
and it can be personalized to your taste buds.
-You can use raw cocoa butter to make some delightful quick-melt candy too.
So, time to grind some raw cacao nibs into a powder, and make a yummy hot chocolate from it, as a tribute to the Mayans and Aztecs who taught us that we can feel like royalty and healthy with just one cup of it per day.